The following passage is taken from a sermon preached at the Feast of Epiphany (regarded in the Eastern churches as the commemoration of the Baptism of the Lord), 381 AD, by Saint Gregory Nazianzen. It is also referred to as his oration on the Holy Lights, referring to a time earlier in the Church when this festival was termed as such, due to the ancient naming of the baptismal ceremony as ‘Illumination’. This itself pointed to the use of lighted candles by the neophytes, and also the grace conferred by the sacrament. In the excerpt below (courtesy of Daily Gospel), Saint Gregory draws our attention to the true meaning of Christ’s baptism, which was (as everything else He did and does) for our sake.
He ‘fulfilled all righteousness’ in order that all parts of human life may be hallowed, and with particular respect to Holy Baptism, sanctified the very element with which we are brought into Christian life – water. Furthermore, Saint Gregory highlights the Trinitarian character of Jesus’ baptism, and in doing so reminds us that this event in Christ’s life, whilst so often appealed to by Adoptionists, is in fact intensely affirmative of Jesus’ divine nature:
‘John is in process of baptizing and Jesus comes to him: he comes himself to sanctify the man about to baptize him. He comes to drown the first Adam completely in the waters but, beforehand and in view of it, to make the waters of the Jordan holy. He who is spirit and flesh wants to bring man to completion through water and the Spirit (Jn 3,4).
John will not receive him; Jesus contends. “I need to be baptised by you”, says the lamp to the Sun, the voice to the Word, the friend to the Bridegroom, the one who is greater than all those born of women to him who is the Firstborn of every creature (Jn 5,35; 3,29; Mt 11,11; Col 1,15), the one who leaped in the womb to him who was adored in the womb, the one who was and is the Forerunner to him who was and is to be manifested: “I need to be baptised by you”. We might add to this: “by giving my life for you”; for he knew that he would be baptised by martyrdom…
Further, Jesus goes up out of the water. Together with himself he carries up the world and sees the heavens split open that Adam had shut against himself and all his posterity, as the gates of Paradise by the flaming sword (Gn 3,24). And the Spirit bears witness to his Godhead, for he descends upon One who is like him in the same way as the Voice from heaven (for he to whom witness is borne comes from thence), and like a dove seen in bodily form he bestows honor on his body.’
Sermon 39, for the festival of lights; PG 36, 359 (trans. Breviary, Baptism of the Lord)